J.J. Watt's True Impact (09/28/16)
On Tuesday evening, NFL.com's Ian Rapaport reported that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt re-injured his back and would be placed on injured reserve. On Wednesday, it was made official, as Houston did indeed place Watt on injured reserve, guaranteeing that he'll miss a minimum of the next eight games. Based on early reports, it seems likely that Watt will miss the remainder of the season, although that has not yet been confirmed.
In the hours following Watt's injury announcement, many members of the media were in a rush to proclaim exactly how much Watt is worth to the Texans. ESPN's John Clayton went so far as saying that "J.J Watt is worth at least two or three wins because he's so good". I'm not sure where Clayton is getting his math from, but I can absolutely assure you that there isn't a single defensive player in the NFL that is worth two wins to his team. Watt is a generational talent and by far the best player at his position in the entire league, but aside from top-level quarterbacks, there are no players in the league that are worth "at least two or three wins". So what exactly is Watt worth?
At PredictionMachine.com, we have the technology to remove any player from any team, and re-simulate the entire season 50,000 times to determine exactly what a player is worh to his respective team. Now, admittedly, there is no exact science to removing Watt from the equation. The Texans could go in a number of directions; move Jadeveon Clowney permanently to DE, or line up Devon Still (who was inactive last week) across from Christian Covington, or even a mix of both, with Clowney mixing it up at defensive end and outside linebacker. We'd also expect Clowney's production to take a slight dip now that he is the most likely player to get double-teamed in Watt's absense. With that being said, we feel as though we have accurately respresented all of these scenarios in our simulations.
With Watt in the lineup, the Texans were projected to give up an average of approximately 17.40 points per game against a league average offense. With Watt out of the equation, that number jumps up to an average of approximately 18.63 points per game against a league average defense; a difference of 1.23 points per game. This is not insignificant whatsoever, but I'm sure that even the average NFL fan with no statistical base can piece together that a team isn't likely to lose at least two extra games because they're allowing 1.23 more points per game. Prior to Watt's injury, we had projected the Texans to finish with an average of 8.7 wins this season; however, that number has since dipped to 8.2 wins with Watt's absence. There is always a tendency to overreact to a major injury in football, but at the end of the day, injuries are typically worth far less in terms of win expectancy than the average fan tends to believe.
Again, the purpose here is not to diminish Watt's abilities as a player. His absence is certainly significant---the Texans' Super Bowl chances are virtually cut in half, and the Texans are now more unlikely to make the playoffs than likely---but in terms of week-to-week win expectancy, there isn't as large of a discrepancy as you've probably been lead to believe.
Here is a complete look at how the Texans' season is affected by Watt's absence: